DEFCON Dining: Bootsie's Heritage Cafe

It had been a long time since I'd made the trek out to Tomball. I think the last time I was there was back in the summer, when I spent a couple of days slaving working at Bootsies' Heritage Cafe for Randy Rucker, as a stagiere, just before he closed up shop to prepare for the opening of Restaurant conāt. To be honest, with Bootsie's now under the direction of Rucker's mom, Bootsie Nicol, I probably wouldn't have made the drive out there again, if not for my kids.

I'm not trying to be mean, it's just that driving that far just to eat dinner (or help prepare it, on occasion) doesn't really appeal to me. When Chef Rucker was at the helm, it was different, but so was Bootsie's. As good a burger as it may be, the Mother Rucker just doesn't warrant upward of three hours of my time. As it happened, though, a recent weekend found me traipsing out to 249 for one of my daughter's classmate's birthday parties.

Actually, it had me driving back and forth between Tomball and downtown, chauffeuring my two kids between two different parties. By the time I'd picked the last kid up from the last party (Tomball edition), I had been driving for about three hours, more or less straight. It was close to dinnertime, and neither kid had eaten much aside from cake. Ah, birthdays. I figured that it was as good an opportunity as any to swing by Bootsie's and see how Randy's mom was doing.

While I know Randy reasonably well, having been graciously welcomed into his kitchen to learn and having eaten from that same kitchen on a couple of occasions, I do not know his mother from Adam. I've met her, even sat across the table from her at one of her son's dinners, but she wouldn't be able to pick me out of a lineup. That ought to wrap up the disclosure portion of our program. On to the main event.

For those of you familiar with Bootsie's, not much has changed in the dining room. Nicol has added some homespun warmth with the addition of some new dessert display cases, knick-knacks, and a cozy tearoom off to one side, but the spare space is largely as remembered.

Bootsie attended to our table, chatting amiably with my kids and encouraging the little one (I swear, she's like one of those ferns that suck nutrients out of the air), via the judicious promise of cake balls, to eat her mac and cheese. Creamy and mild, it offered exactly the sort of comforting familiarity my 5-year-old would have relished in cheesy pasta. In between one of Nicol's many trips to and from our table to check on us, my older daughter, smiling at Bootsie's sly manipulation of her sister, announced "I like her; she's funny."

That Bootsie is proud of her establishment, and glad to have it fully as hers, is readily apparent. She moves through the room all smiles and attentiveness, genuinely asking after and seeing to each table's needs. I remember some vague chatter, near the beginning of the restaurant's earlier incarnation, indicating that she was an ungracious host. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least not in my experience, brief though it may be.

As for my dinner, I couldn't resist a storied dish from the restaurant's beginning, before the multi-course tasting menus and progressive cooking of Rucker and crew took off in full. A fine bookend to the Restaurant's still-young history, the Mother Rucker is almost worth the drive.

This is a towering agglomeration of beef (I'm guessing here, but I'd say this is a half-pounder, minimum), chicken-fried bacon, cheese, veg, and a fried egg. I must admit some hesitance about CFB, but it's very nice, with the crisp breading offsetting the meaty chew of the bacon, and not awash in grease. The meat was beefy, though pretty clearly pre-formed, and cooked to my specified medium rare. The vegetables were fresh and vibrant, and the bun (a soft, slightly sweet affair) did a reasonable job of holding the thing together while I (tried) to fit it in my face. My lone complaint is the egg. Rather than a gloriously runny sunny-side, the yolk had been broken and cooked hard, kind of defeating the purpose, in my eyes.

That small quibble aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner at Bootsie's, as did the family. In fairness, I suppose I should acknowledge that I appreciated the side of nostalgia. Before our meals were served, and while they waited on me to finish that mammoth burger, the kids drew happily on their provided coloring sheets, made "how old are you" small talk with Bootsie (this was particularly appreciated by the young one, a bit of a runt, as Bootsie tacked a few years onto her guess), and checking out the tea room. The cake balls, finally copped after a bit of bite-bartering with Bootsie, didn't hurt, either.



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